Tactics and Substance in the 2004 Elections GoogleNews: Howard Dean

September 12, 2003

by V

TPM Freakout, or "Up-is-Downism Redux"

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo is usually such a reasonable, measured, persuasive guy.

It's noteworthy, therefore, when he starts making wild accusations against anyone, let alone Democrats.

It was triggered by this Washington Post story Wednesday which leaked word of more meetings between Dean and Clark. It led with the statement:
Dean has asked retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark to join his campaign, if the former NATO commander does not jump into the race himself next week.
Marshall began by characterizing the report thus:
...now the story of the day is not those very active discussions Clark is having about his own presidential run, but the potential 'Dean/Clark alliance'. And if Clark decides to get into the race after all, doesn't that mean that he wobbled, that as recently as this week he was thinking of taking the number two slot from Dean, or endorsing Dean? (His opponents want to play to the 'indecision' meme, remember.) I think that's what some people would like us to think.

I can come up with a number of interpretations for the Post story and its intended impact:
  • Dean and Clark agreed to leak to: 1) put up a trial balloon and see what people though of such a ticket, or 2) freak out all the other candidates even more, or 3) signal their intent to end the race as early as possible by coming up with a balanced ticket that allays people's reservations about each candidate.

  • Clark alone leaked it to: 1) Make Dean look uncertain (needing Clark to add heft to the ticket shows you think you're weak in that area!), or 2) make Dean look overconfident (what the hell's Dean doing picking running mates when no votes have been cast?), or 3) get Dean to back off the VP rumblings by throwing too much light on them and embarrassing him.

  • Dean alone leaked it to: 1) behave like someone who's already got it all sewn up, hoping it will be self-fulfilling, or 2) push this week's various negative articles off the front page.

  • Someone else leaked it, to interfere with both campaigns.
...but "Dean leaked to make Clark look like he's not presidential material" doesn't stand up to the barest scrutiny. Saying someone could be a good running mate means you think they'd be a fine President; that if you died in the saddle, they're the one you'd want to take over. Some people seem to forget that.

And no one needs to "play to the 'indecision' meme", Clark's taking care of that all on his own. ("I shall be... uh.. a Democrat!")

Later, Marshall got much more direct about where he thinks the reports came from and who made them:
Aha! More news about Dean Campaign Manager Joe Trippi's 'he's-begging-to-be-our-VP' dirty tricks campaign against Wes Clark. This from the just-posted edition of USNews' Washington Whispers ...
And forget about that talk that all the retired four-star general and former NATO boss wants is the veep nomination. [CLARK] Supporters say that's a dirty-tricks campaign pushed by rival Howard Dean who's scared of a Clark candidacy...
Good grief. Phrase by phrase:
  • he's-begging-to-be-our-VP: Again, whaaa?

    Do Clark supporters have a problem matching subjects with verbs? The article explicitly says Dean is asking Clark to join him if he decides not to run. On what planet does that equal "Clark is asking [begging?] to join Dean"?

    The closest I can come to finding any string of words in the article which gives the impression Marshall and USNews' "supporters" say it does is if you read the original print headline a specific [wrong] way: "Clark reportedly asked to join Dean".

    Yes, that could be read as "Clark [has] asked to join Dean" instead of "Clark [has been] asked to join Dean", but the very first paragraph of the article clears up any such misconception. Furthermore, the Post has edited the online headline to say "Gen. Clark Reportedly Is Asked to Join Dean".

    Where is the ambiguity there? And where's the begging by Clark? Looks to me like begging by Dean.

  • dirty tricks campaign: Here Marshall and the USNews sources go off the rails. To be a dirty tricks campaign, there has to be some sort of trick. Show me the trick, please.
Marshall is behaving as protectively of Clark's run and his image as any Dean supporter does for Dean. In fact, in my opinion he's tipped his hand as a Clark backer, but then again I could be wrong and he could just be anti-Dean and not especially pro-Clark.

Regardless, Marshall's usually an opponent of calling things their opposites ('up-is-downism'), so why does he engage in it here? Dean-wanting-Clark = Clark-begs-dean?!

I call Shenanigans.
Posted by V at September 12, 2003 05:09 PM

Marshall has previously talked dreamily of a Clark campaign, so his support for Clark is not a surprise. This little wig-out of his, however, IS a surprise, at least to me. Marshall has always been a paragon of level-headedness, even when he was toooooootally wrong about Iraq. Suddenly it appears he's lost his shit.

Nice post & nice blog, btw.

Posted by: cerebrocrat at September 14, 2003 12:05 PM


I've made the E-mail Address field optional now, btw.

Posted by: V at September 15, 2003 01:46 PM

Recommended Reading:

The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity: A Diplomat's Memoir
The Politics of Truth... A Diplomat's Memoir

Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush
Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush

Against All Enemies by Richard Clarke
Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror

LIES by Al Franken
Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right

The Great Unraveling
The Great Unraveling

The Great Big Book of Tomorrow
The Great Big Book of Tomorrow

Clinton Wars
The Clinton Wars

Blinded by the Right
Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative

Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat

Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture

Living History

The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton

John Adams

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace

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